Today, FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that there is an ongoing investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election that also reaches into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. During the hearing, the official account of the President of the United States tweeted that "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.” Comey was asked about the tweet and, under oath, he testified that the tweet was not what he said. Comey was very clear that the Russian government actively worked against Clinton and in favor of Trump during the campaign. As the investigation proceeds, the White House is attempting to distance itself from Paul Manafort, whose name came up dozens of times during today’s hearing. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that Manafort played a "limited role for a very limited amount of time." In fact, Manafort was Trump’s campaign chair until he resigned with three months to go in the election. Manafort resigned because of what seemed to be pro-Russian positions and an extensive lobbying history in Ukraine.
Comey and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers both also told Congress that their agencies have no information to support President Trump’s tweets regarding wiretapping of Trump Tower by President Obama. All of Trump’s wiretapping claims have been debunked by everyone with possible knowledge of any such wiretapping. In his press briefing, Sean Spicer continued to insist that Trump didn’t mean actual, old-fashioned wiretapping, despite his frequent use of that precise term.
Republicans on the committee used their time to press the point that it’s illegal to leak classified information. Representatives Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, for example, were almost exclusively concerned with the protection of the privacy of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose phone calls with the Russian Ambassador were leaked to the press, rather than with the fact that Flynn had repeatedly lied about those calls. Republican members of the committee were also concerned that there didn’t seem to be nearly as much interest in an investigation of Hillary Clinton.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Neal Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court began today, with Democrats repeatedly bringing up Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Court last year by President Obama and was explicitly denied a hearing by Senate Republicans. They also made clear their intention to draw out specifics from Gorsuch on a range of hot-button issues, including abortion, environmental protections, and even possible forthcoming lawsuits against the White House. Republicans, meanwhile, walked around the Merrick Garland issue and focused on praising Gorsuch.
The White House—through Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon—is working with Congressional Republicans on changes to the ACHA, the bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act. At present, virtually no one supports the bill, though Speaker Paul Ryan wants a vote in the House on Thursday. Democrats point to the fact that it will lead to 24 million people losing their insurance, the Freedom Caucus believes it isn’t a sufficient departure from the ACA, and moderate Republicans worry that proposed changes could cost them their seats in 2018. According to CNN, Bannon has been working to push the ACHA to the right in order to secure the votes from the House Freedom Caucus, against the preference of Priebus, who would prefer Ryan’s bill as it stands. Moving to the right would include, for example, mandatory work requirements for able-bodied adults who are on Medicaid, something the Freedom Caucus has said is necessary for them before changing their mind on the bill. As the bill moves to the right, however, moderate Republicans become less likely to support it. What’s more, passage of a similar bill in the Senate is even less likely than in the House, due to the much narrower margin the GOP enjoys there. Still, this is an issue well worth calling your representative about early this week.